Leviticus 16 and 23 – The Day of Atonement and the Liturgical Calendar


Leviticus 16 and 23


In Leviticus 16, the LORD gives instructions to Moses about observing the annual Day of Atonement.


The rituals for the Day of Atonement are described in detail in Leviticus 16. This is the only day of the year when the high priest can enter the innermost part of the sanctuary, the holy of holies. There, he offers incense and sprinkles the blood of sacrifices to make atonement for the sanctuary, for himself, and for the people. The ritual for the Day of Atonement also includes the practice of the high priest laying hands on the head of a goat and confessing the people’s sins–thereby ritually laying the burden of those sins on the goat–then sending the goat out into the wilderness. William Tyndale in the 16th century coined the term “scapegoat” to describe the function of the goat in this passage.

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, remains the most important of the high holy days in the Jewish calendar today. It also provides the background for the discussion in Hebrews 9, where the author of Hebrews proclaims Jesus as both the great high priest and the final sacrifice.